Sports Management Worldwide NHL Conference Is A Great Hockey Experience
Two years ago, I attended the Sports Management Worldwide NHL Conference held on a Saturday at the New York Marriott Marquis and the NHL Draft held that Sunday at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
As always, some of the speakers are unable to fulfill their obligations and attend the Conference for one reason or the other. But those that were able to attend were in no way disappointing. They ranged from Director of Pro Scouting to General Manager to Head Coach to Pro Agent to a team Governor and Memorial Cup Chairman.
The Conference started off with SMWW President and Founder, Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, welcoming us all and invoking his “two-minute drill”. You have to say hi to someone you just met and introduce yourself for a minute. The second minute of the drill is the same, but with a different person. This breaks the ice and puts people at ease.
Jon Christiano, the Director of Pro Scouting for the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, was the first to speak and he was fantastic. Jon explained how he got his start in Hockey and how he was able to move up the ladder to gain the position he has now. As in everything, Networking is the key, that and being in the right place at the right time and the “know someone who can help”. All this is obtainable, if you work hard and keep your ears and eyes open. We learned that each Pro Hockey team, NHL and Minors all have a network of Scouts, that cover North America and Europe.
Hockey Media and Marketing was next on the Itinerary and Joe Favorito and Chris Botta took care of that. Out of the two, I would say that Chris Botta was by far better. He actually worked for the NY Islanders for 20 some-odd years and is a NHL writer for both the Sports Business Journal and the NY Times. Joe however did give this advice: find a niche and go with it. He also said that writing in your blog about the Business side of Minor League Hockey would be fruitful considering that no one is doing that at this time. It gave us all something to think about.
Pat Brisson that took the stage and talked to us about Player Representation. He is not only a NHLPA Certified Agent, but an Agent to the stars. His list of clients include Sidney Crosby, Martin Brodeur, John Tavares, and the #1 and #4 picks on Sunday: Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones. He told us his story of success and how you can become a Sports Agent. He did not tell tales out of school, but was very informative and straightforward. If my son were a Hockey player, I would want Pat to represent him if he were lucky enough to get drafted.
We then received a great treat, when Ken Holland, GM and Executive Vice-President of the Detroit Red Wings was introduced. He told his story, from player to Scout to Assistant GM to General Manager. And he is rated by his peers, the media and the fans, as one of the best in the business. He explained to us how he is trying to keep the Red Wings a contender for the Cup, keeping them younger and not allowing their superstars to leave. It is not easy and it takes a pretty savvy GM to accomplish it all. And that is what Mr. Holland is, a very savvy NHL GM. He is also an awesome individual that could take 45 minutes of his time the day before the NHL Draft, to speak with us. That was extremely impressive. If there is a role model that we students of SMWW should follow, it is Ken Holland.
The next speaker was Jim Price, who is the President of Rinknet Scouting. Rinknet is used by 29 of the 30 NHL teams, with the New Jersey Devils as the only one that does not incorporate this Scouting Software. While I was taking my Hockey GM & Scouting Course with SMWW, we were able to use Rinknet and I must say, it is invaluable if you are a Scout, GM or Coach. Jim shared exactly what Rinknet does and how it is used and how to use it. He also explained how frequently updated Rinknet is and how it grows and adjusts with the times and the sport of Hockey. I even asked Jim if an individual scout like me who is just trying to break in can purchase Rinknet. He said that there were special Graduate Rates, of which I will be looking into.
Trevor Whiffen, the Governor of the London Knights of the OHL and the Chairman of the Memorial Cup spoke to us next, even though three of his players: Nikita Zadorov, Max Domi and Bo Horvat were scheduled to be drafted in the first round the next day. But he also found the time to not only speak to us, but to hang out for the rest of the Conference and to join us in the lounge later to chat. He explained to us exactly what the Memorial Cup his and how very hard it is to win. Each and every year in the Canadian Hockey League the winners of the QMJHL, the OHL and the WHL meet with a host team from one of those three Leagues to attempt to win the Memorial Cup. So not only do you have to win your League’s Championship which could last 3 to 4 best of seven series, and then you have to win a round-robin competition against the best of the best. No wonder it is considered the hardest tournament in sports to win.
As the day went on, the conference got better and better; for the next speaker was Brian Burke. Mr. Burke, the former GM of the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs and current Advisor to the Anaheim Ducks and the newly installed Director of Player Development for the US Olympic Team for 2014 showed up with his son Patrick. The younger Mr. Burke was a former Scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and is currently working to diminish homophobia in the sports world, especially Hockey. Both father and son told some stories that were very candid, funny and enlightening. Brian told us how he was not at first impressed with the Sedin twins, but traveled to Europe to see them play in a Tournament and saw two completely different players in action. He then explained how he was able to make a few deals and land them with the 2nd and 3rd picks in the draft. And that is the reason that they wear #22 and #33 for the Canucks. At the conclusion of their time with us, both stayed and allowed us some one on one time. I took advantage of this to congratulate Brian on becoming the new Director of Player Personnel for Team USA and asked him besides Jonathan Quick as the definite #1, who would be the other goaltenders that Team USA would be looking at. I mentioned Ben Bishop and Mr. Burke added Ryan Miller and Greg Anderson to the list. He also mentioned that there may be a surprise from the Minor Leagues that could possibly make the team as the third Goalie. All in all, it was an unbelievable experience full of positive insight into the world of Hockey General Managing.
We then received a European Perspective of the Hockey world, when Szymon Szemberg of the International Hockey Federation was introduced to us. He explained the difference between Europe and in particular Russia and North America when it comes to player development and how players grow and advance. In Russia the young players advance and either sink or swim, so for every Malkin and Ovechkin that develops in Russia, there are many that do not. In North America, the players can move up and down, depending on their level of play, which is the more practical way of going about development. That was the biggest difference between Russian and North American hockey.
The next two speakers were the two co-teacher/moderators of the Hockey GM & Scouting Course at SMWW. Mike Oke is the GM of the Peterborough Petes and Dino Caputo is a Scout for the Tri-City Americans. Together they form a great tandem, that offer insight and valuable info on the world of Minor League Hockey. Both gentleman are affable and personable and make you feel right at home in the online classroom. I would recommend this class to anyone who might like to learn the insights of the Front Office of a Hockey Team or yearns to be a scout and find the next Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky out there. It was a very enjoyable 8 weeks and you do have a lot of fun while learning a boat load of information.
The last quests of the Conference were a quartet from the WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks. They were: Lisa Hollenbeck, the Executive Assistant of Hockey Operations (and an SMWW Alumni); Kyle Gustafson , Assistant Coach; Travis Green, former First Round Draft Choice and current Assistant Coach and Mike Johnston, the Head Coach and GM. They told us of their individual travels to where they are right now, how the Winterhawks and D Seth Jones were able to win the WHL and make it to the Finals of the Memorial Cup. Coach Johnston also explained how many teams in the CHL look to Area Scouts to search for talent and send them the info on them. I approached Coach Johnston about this after his quartet was finished and he took the time to tell me that the WHL does not have New Jersey as a region, but that the QMJHL does. He told me about a few teams in that League that may be looking for someone to Scout in NJ and that I should contact them and that I could use his name as a reference.
I will work on that project within the next two weeks.
At the conclusion of the Conference, most of us, made our way to the Lounge on the 8th floor of the hotel and broke into groups to further discussions and networking. It was then that fate took a hand. I had written an article for Sportsideo named “Trailblazers All” about the first Afro-American men in the four major sporting leagues in North America. And lo and behold, I spied an older Afro-American man sitting at the bar in a fine suit with a Boston Bruin pin on his suit jacket. I knew who he was and I also knew that if I did not introduce myself, I would regret it for years and years. So I went over and said hello and shook hands with Mr. Willie O’Ree, the first Afro-American man to play in the NHL. I told him that it was an honor and a pleasure to meet him. I told him about the article I wrote for Sportsideo about the Afro-American trailblazers in sports history and he seemed genuinely happy. He then told me that he would be going to Duluth, Minnesota in a few weeks where he is involved in a project to allow children of all backgrounds to engage in hockey. Race, creed, color nor economics would stand in the way of these kids learning how to skate and play hockey. I wished him good luck and came away from our brief meeting the better for it.
On Sunday at the Draft, we were all sitting in Section 21 at the Prudential Center and watched as the future of the NHL began their journey to stardom. It was an exciting day, as the parents of the prospects looked much more nervous than their sons did. I walked around the Concourse and took in the major Awards of the NHL. I could not get my picture taken with Lord Stanley’s Cup, but was able to snap a picture of it with my cell phone from across the concourse. I purchased a few Hockey Cards, most notably one each of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones. Then it was the start of the Draft itself. I stayed until the completion of the 5th round, and then made my way home. It was not only a long day, but a long weekend as well.
But as I have stated before, it was the BEST HOCKEY WEEKEND OF MY LIFE.
PS: Through LinkedIn, I was able to secure a position on NJ Area Scout for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
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